Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!
In this episode, I talk with fiction author David Rocklin about his writing journey and where he got the inspiration for his novels, The Night Language and The Luminist.
Other topics we cover include:
· Where story ideas come from.
· What our stories mean for our readers.
· How to excavate the really juicy stuff in your story.
· The number one attribute ALL writers need.
· And why writers need other writers.
You’re not going to want to miss this entertaining and informative episode on storytelling with David Rocklin!
Visit David’s website here: http://davidrocklinauthor.com/
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Find the full transcript of this episode below.
Episode 50: Storytelling with David Rocklin
Jo: Hello, my friends. I am so pleased to have you join me again for another episode of Alchemy for Authors. I am finding it so unbelievable that this is episode 50. When I started this podcast, I really didn’t know how long I’d be able to keep it up, whether anything was really gonna come of it, whether anyone would even listen to this. And I have just been pleasantly surprised around every corner with this podcast. It is being so much fun. And I have just talked to the most amazing authors and writers out there. And, oh, I’ve got so many wonderful episodes I can’t wait to share for you that are sitting there ready to go over the next couple of months. So I hope you continue to stick around. And I just wanted to share with you too, that I am so appreciative of you listening to Alchemy for Authors and joining me for all these amazing chats that I have with the most amazing people.
And today is no different. I had so much fun recording today’s episode with guest David Rocklin. And as you’ll find out, David is just a born storyteller, and he just had me laughing so much throughout the recording. He has such a wonderful sense of humor. So it was so much fun.
But first, a quick little update from me. My husband is abroad at the moment for a few weeks. He’s in America and then visiting family in Canada, while I’m over here on the other side of the world in New Zealand. It’s a bit unusual. We’re not often apart for this long. But the positive to it, if there is a positive to it, is that I have just a little bit more time built into my day now that I’m going to be taken advantage of to really buckle down with my writing and some of the cool writing projects that I have on the horizon here as well. Not that hubby ever gets in the way from stopping me from doing this. But, for myself, I can lose just a little bit of that guilt of working long hours, being a little bit more antisocial, and ordering take out a little bit more, so I don’t have to be on dinner duty as often.
So yeah, in between the day job and now being a solo cat mum for the next few weeks, which I know it’s no hard gig, cats are easy. But, yeah, I’m certainly looking forward to just taking advantage of the little, extra snippets of time to play around with some of my upcoming writing projects and books and whatnot.
So one of the things that I’m working on is finalizing a launch plan and date of release for my new cozy mystery novel, as well as just cleaning up final, final, final edits on it and getting it to my beta readers as well. My hope is that I will be able to get this novel out into the world, if not in April, then hopefully early May. So there’s a bit of work to do there and yeah, I just got to get going with it. It’s really exciting.
I’m also playing around with some other book related and coaching ideas under the umbrella of Alchemy for Authors. So I’ve just got confirmation that I’m now attending a three day literacy conference in New Zealand for educators at the end of September. Where I’m going to be presenting a couple of workshops about writing, which is super, super exciting. It is also a little bit nerve wracking. This is me pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I’m used to talking to people via this podcast and talking to smaller groups of people and teaching students. But this is going to be educators from all around the country, so adults, that I’m going to be doing some writing workshops with, which is, yay. Like I said, super exciting. Super nerve wracking. Little bit of imposter syndrome seems to be creeping in at the sides, but I’m just reminding myself that that’s normal. And I feel that with every book, and I feel that with every podcast episode, so I know I’m going to get through the other side of that. So over the next little while, one of the things I’m going to be working on is obviously planning out what those workshops are going to be looking like.
And because this opportunity kind of fell into my lap, I’m also starting to rethink the timeline I had in mind for putting out my first non-fiction book on writing under the Alchemy for Authors brand. So I had always intended on doing this, but it was one of those ‘one day’ goals that I hadn’t actually set into stone. And now that I’m going to be working with lots of adults at this great big conference, I really want to think about how I can help meet people’s needs through a nonfiction book as well. Or most likely a series of them.
So, if you’re interested in being one of the first to hear of updates about nonfiction books under the umbrella of Alchemy for Authors, then I do recommend that you sign up to my newsletter at www.subscribepage.com/manifestationforauthors. That way I can keep you updated with, not only new episodes of this podcast and future guests and that, but also book releases, and in the future too, some opportunities to work with me, if that’s something that interests you. So, yeah, it’s all very exciting.
But for now, I want to share with you today’s amazing episode. Not only will David be sharing the background of his own novels, which trust me, that alone is totally worth listening to this episode for, but he’ll also be talking about where story ideas come from, what our stories mean for our readers, how to get to the really, really good stuff in your story, and the number one attribute all writers need, as well as why writers need other writers. So it is a really great episode. And if you are ready, make sure you go grab yourself a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.
Hello, my lovelies, welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. In today’s episode, I’m talking with author David Rocklin. David is a novelist and attorney living in Los Angeles with his wife, daughters, and a 160 pound Great Dane who needs to stay on his own bed. David is currently finishing his third novel, The Electric Love Song of Fleischl Berger. David hosts and curates Roar Shack, a long-running LA reading series. He also provides editorial services to writers of all kinds and will be soon launching The Write Formula, a writing craft book, and writing retreats in California as well. So welcome David. Thank you so much for being here.
David: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here with you.
Jo: Well, I love to start these podcast episodes with my guest sharing with my listeners how they came to be on this writing journey and what drew you to being an author.
David: Oh, sure. Well, thank you. Um, you know, I, I give credit to a grade school teacher, Mrs. Luxembourg, who is not only still with us, but I also keep in touch with her, and in fact, list her name in the acknowledgements of every book that I write. When I was in grade school, she apparently saw something in me that I was not even aware was there when it came to writing. And one day she gave me a little bit of what I thought at the time was extra homework, but was in fact a short story that she just thought I might like. And it’s a short story, very famous by, uh, one of the most brilliant of writers, Shirley Jackson. And the story, of course, is The Lottery. And when I read it, I became, absolutely fascinated by how subversive and powerful and sort of unrelentingly, uh, tricky writing could be. That story is one that draws you into what seems like a very simple, idyllic life. Only to just pull the rug out from under you in the last few pages when you realize what is going on. And I came back to her sort of wide-eyed and just really was blown away by what writing had the capacity to do. And she told me, A. that she thought I might appreciate it, and B. she felt one day I’m gonna see your name in print as a writer. And I never forgot that.
And I think what she understood about me that I didn’t understand about myself at the time, was that I tended to process the world through writing. I never felt like I fully understood things that I was going through, or phases I was passing through unless I wrote something about them. And so really I, it’s hard for me to pinpoint when I started being a writer because I just sort of feel like it was always a part of me. And there was certainly a, you know, a point in time when I just said, I think it’s time for me to sit down, do the work and see if perhaps I can be a published writer.
Jo: Yeah. Yeah. That’s amazing. I love stories where it’s a teacher or somebody like that who kind of gives that encouragement. Because in my day job, I’m a educator, I’m a teacher, and so hearing those positives, because sometimes you do hear the negatives of people being turned off by writing because of somebody said something somewhere along in their childhood . And so I love stories like that so much.
So, you went along with a little bit of this passion for writing maybe your whole life, but then what was the catalyst that actually set you towards wanting to be published? Was there a catalyst or what was that turning point for you?
David: Yeah, so you know, I think that I’ve always been an avid reader and so of course I just began to delve into books that I loved and I, you know, I grew up on essentially a steady diet of horror and old martial arts films.
Jo: Fair enough.
David: So, and what’s interesting is, uh, I traced the, the first true writing lesson I ever had to my first viewing of a very famous martial arts film called Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee. Mm-hmm. Which stayed with me all my life. And, and the writing lesson for me was that all writing is contextual and what that means is you can write a passage and that passage is gonna be received very differently by different people depending upon the context they are viewing it from. Readers 100% bring their own experiences, their own lives, their own thoughts into your writing. And so what you may think you’re communicating may be received quite differently. And that’s not something to fear. That’s actually a beautiful, beautiful thing. It is part of the exchange that is writing, and then putting your words out in some fashion, whether it’s by reading them at a public event or publishing them and then having a reader receive them, process them, and now those words stay with that person. Yeah. That’s to me, the writing life. It doesn’t stop with when you, you know, close your laptop or put your pen down it, that’s only really the beginning of that writing journey. And so very quickly what happened to me when I was, this was I was very little, I was sneaking into downtown Chicago movie theatres, seeing R rated films when I was nowhere near old enough to be seeing them, and I ended up sitting through Enter the Dragon. There were two older guys behind me who were just sort of giggling through the whole movie because here’s this little kid who really should be seeing Disney films, but instead is sitting in a seat that’s too big for him watching this martial arts extravaganza. And when it was over, they leaned forward and said, so what did you think? And I said, oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like that. That was incredible. He was not human. And they said, yeah, it’s really too bad he’s dead. And I said, I’m sorry, what? And they said, oh yeah, no, he passed away some time ago. They, they rerun these movies in these theatres, but yeah, he’s, he’s not alive anymore. And then they left. And I was just sitting there with that. And, because at the time you could do this, I sat through the movie again, I just stayed there. Nobody, you know, there were no ushers who came around saying, okay, get out of the theatre, we have to clean. A downtown movie theatre like this, cleaning was the last thing they were concerned about. So I sat through the entire movie again and this time, every time he did something on screen, what I thought was he can’t do that anymore. He’s gone. He won’t, he won’t ever do this again. That’s the last time that he’ll do this. And the movie and the story was now completely different for me and it was because my context was different.
And so I think around that time, the idea took root and married with the idea that my, uh, English teacher had given me about one day I might see your name in print. And so I began to just play with the notion of telling stories. And you know, like every writer, I’m sure all of us who are listening or who have also been on your podcast, we all have that drawer. We all have that computer file full of the stuff that’s terrible, that will never see the light of day. That is the most valuable drawer in your computer or your house. Praise it. Thank it. Because that is, that’s your work, that’s your practice. That’s going to the gym. That’s putting your reps in, you know, that’s, that’s practicing your shadow boxing. You’re not ready until you’ve done it many, many, many times over. And so those are not failures, those are steps. And so, I think somewhere in that alchemy of learning that lesson, my English teacher’s words, and then continuing to just sort of live and take in the sights and sounds, going to museums, going to films, reading a bunch of books, I began to absorb without really realizing it, the, the blueprint of what it means to tell a story from beginning to end. And when that had kind of taken sufficient route, it kind of coincided with a friend of mine, a very close friend who remains a close friend, we’ve known each other since we were little kids, we would always tell each other’s stories. He had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, and reached out to me. This was probably in my mid to late twenties. And said, you know, I’m out here. I’m thinking about, you know, like writing screenplays. You should move out here and do it with me. And I just spur of the moment, said, okay. So I literally threw everything in my car. Drove for about four days, got good and lost across the United States. Arrived, started writing screenplays with him. Got one optioned by a producer. But realized during that, that I just really disliked that style of writing. It wasn’t satisfying to me. And began to think about, you know, what I think would feel good, a novel. And so that’s really where it began.
Jo: Yeah. That’s, wow. That is just a beautiful story that you told particularly about that context, because it is interesting. And so when you were watching Enter the Dragon for the second time round and with the different context that Bruce Lee is no longer alive. Yeah. Then you are almost watching through the eyes of, um, the legacy that he’s left behind. The art form that he’s left behind. Do you carry that with you when you write your books that this is what you are going to be remembered for like long after you pass these works will still live on, like, do you often think about that?
David: You know, I, I know you’re asking me that because I’m just, I’m old and, No, no, no, for reminding me. No, no, no. I get it. I get I I get it, Jo. I get it. Yeah, that was that. Yeah, that was of a shot. It’s all, it’s all good. It’s all, it’s, yeah, it’s fine. Maybe we should just end this here.
No, I think, um, that, that’s actually a really good question and I can’t say that I think about, um, myself in terms of a legacy, only because I think my entire mindset is such that it’s really hard for me to think of myself as important. I just, I just don’t. So, but what I do think about sometimes and, and there’s like a phrase that just sort of rattles around in my brain, it’s not necessarily anything I’ve said to anybody, but it’s, if you want to get to know me, read a book I wrote. And I, I, I feel sort of like many writers feel some variation of that.
You know, the books that I write, the novels, um, they have nothing to do with my life. They’re historically set. I know we’ll probably chat a little bit about them. They’re, they take place in a, in a time I didn’t live in, in countries I didn’t live in, involving people I’ve never met, uh, and customs and practices and social morays and backgrounds and, and politics, none of which have any relationship. Whatsoever. And yet, uh, I, I’m never aware of it when I’m writing, but I’m aware of it when I go back later, usually during like a revision process or I’ll see just a little something, a little grain of something and I’m like, oh, that, yeah, that, that’s me right there. I know where that came from.
And so even though these books have nothing to do with me, they’re probably the most articulately expressed version of me that I think is available to pretty much anyone outside of my immediate family. And even they would tell you, yeah, he’s not really very articulate. He just sort of, you know, he’s kinda a goofball. So I think that’s is probably close to, uh, the legacy aspect of your question that I can get to. That, you know, one day when I’m sort of not here to speak for myself, I, I do hope my books speak for me in some fashion. But I, you know, it’s probably like going back and reading Arthur Rimbaud now, you know, uh, it will give you some insight into the way his heart was working. Will you know him? No. Probably not. Yeah. But you will know what in one moment of his life, he burned to put down on paper. Mm-hmm. You will know in one period of his life what was more important to him than eating or drinking or sleeping. It was to get these words just right. And if that is an idea that intrigues you, then you may do a deeper dive and find out more about the human being behind the words. So I suppose that might be, that might be a legacy in, in some fashion.
Jo: Yeah, see, I, I just find it, um, I don’t know, I, I feel like books and art forms of any kind, they are a small piece of us that get to live on past, you know, past our expiry dates. They get to live on in some way or form. And exactly what you were saying, I think for myself as well, my books give an insight to aspects of myself and, um, I know one of my last novels I hadn’t experienced much of what my main characters had been through, at all, particularly the really traumatic things, but I’d felt those emotions and other ways. So I was drawing from real emotional experience, even though the physical experiences were very different. So it was a little bit of an insight into my, yeah, my heart and soul. But at the same time, I don’t wanna be judged by my books because people are gonna think, oh, she could be a little bit crazy. Um, so, you know, like.
David: Do, do you get that from your readers? Do people presume that you’re speaking from personal experience and ask you to kind of comment on that?
Jo: Not too often, but I have had people who, like friends and family go, oh, were you writing about this person? And it’s like, yeah, no, no, not at all. But it’s a little bit of me. So, yeah. So I find, uh, friends and family are, sometimes I think, looking for maybe themselves in my books. Mm-hmm, which, mm-hmm, isn’t the case. Uh, it really is more drawn from myself and Yeah. Yeah.
David: And they’re a little hurt, like, you know, that dead body I thought it was gonna be and it wasn’t. And I, I’d really like to know why, why didn’t you murder me in your book? Yeah. I’ll, I’ll get to you.
Jo: Yeah, yeah, exactly right. Exactly. Oh, that’s just, that is so fascinating. So, with your books then, what was your journey to publication with your first book? What was that like?
David: Yeah, so, um, my very first attempt at a full scale novel, ended up being about a thousand pages, literally. And it was a horror story. And its jumping off point was the Passover idea of the Angel of Death coming and passing over people’s homes. All I can tell you is that at the time it made sense. Yeah. Um, I, I cannot say that it made sense the moment I started putting words to paper. And it was a very interesting experience for me, obviously, never to be published, never to be seen. You know, I will do humanity a favor and keep it hidden. But, at the time, it was a very interesting experience for me because it helped me discover the type of writing that mattered to me. And the reason for that is, when I was writing about the characters, when I was writing about where they were, why they were doing what they were doing, the emotional pieces of it, I was, I could feel how fully immersed I was. You know, we all know that feeling, right? When you are, you are so deeply immersed that time is sort of meaningless and you forget where you are. You’re just all in. When I would get to the actual horror part, like whatever the thing was that was doing stuff, the writing was basically the equivalent of, and he turned around. There was a big monster, whatever, anyway, let’s get back to his relationship. And it was like, oh, I don’t care about this. I like reading them, but I don’t really care about writing them. Obviously what I’m writing about that matters is all the other stuff. And so that kind of helped me sort of cure, that initial feeling I had, which was I must be Stephen King. I must be Dean Koontz. You know? I must be Peter Straub. I must be these. I, I must be Poppy Brite. These are the people I must be.
And I think all writers, all artists of any kind of, you know, a musician when you’re first learning how to play, you’re learning how to play because you love the way somebody plays. You know? When you are learning how to sing, it’s because you adore Billy Holiday and you’re trying to be Billy Holiday and on your way to trying to be Billy Holiday, you begin to find pieces of yourself, and hopefully you divert towards those pieces and away from just wrote mimicry of, of another artist. But the beginning, absolutely, you should be mimicking the people you love. It’s how you learn. How do I learn how to walk when I’m a baby? I’m watching my parents walk. So, you know, there is, that’s, that’s how we learn as human beings. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s that you keep your eyes open along the journey to figure out what are the things I’m doing that are intrinsically me.
And so for me, the journey through failures, just like that book, and probably two or three more, led me one day to the Getty Museum in LA, when I was kind of thinking about I, I know I feel like writing something, but I just don’t know what. And they had an installation of photography from the early Victorian era. So the very beginning of photography as an art and a science. And there was a wall devoted to a woman named Julia Margaret Cameron, who was British and for a time she lived in Ceylon, which is now Sri Lanka. And she was one of the earliest progenitors of this Victorian era photography. And I was completely taken with her images. Which at the time attributed to her a being a woman and therefore being not very good, and technically not very adept, and all these sort of derogatory things. But when you look at what she did, she was incredibly transgressive. She, she blew through social norms of the time. She refused to be limited by what was expected of a woman, which was to keep her husband’s social calendar and raise children. She pioneered certain techniques, particularly in the use of light and shadow. And the way that she portrayed all these images. It really kind of reminded me of her, because it was like this figure coming out of shadow into light, and I’m like, this is her coming into her own, and whether she was conscious of it or not. And I just became utterly fascinated by her, and found a biography of her, read it and, and this is sort of how I write.
There is always the beginning, which is me acquiring some sort of an image, whether it’s something I can see or just something that takes shape in my mind, and then I find out a little factoid about it. Just a little nugget of something. And those two things spark. I have no control over it. And suddenly it’s all I’m thinking about. And so I had the images, which I had seen, and then in this biography there was one sentence and an otherwise 400 page biography. And the sentence was, “she lost a child at birth”, which was not uncommon at the time. And that was, that was it. That was the fire. And what occurred to me was this woman who, at the time, she lost her child, the only way she would be able to remember her child, the way her baby looked, was through her memory because there was other way to hold onto it. There was no photography. There was no way to capture the image. And what must it be like for someone to sort of be there holding their baby who’s no longer alive and realizing in five years, I may not remember what you look like? I may not be able to hold onto every contour of you. And then she discovers this new art of photography. What must that have been like to realize I can, I can hold time still? I can hold this moment. And in a way that nothing, not God, not memory, not human frailty could ever take away from me. What would that be like for someone like her and how might that inspire her to be stronger than the social boundaries allow her to be? And that was the first novel that was a, a novel called The Luminist. That, uh, was my first, that became my first published novel.
Jo: Beautiful. Such a beautiful premise for a story like Wow. And, and so, you got that traditionally published, is that correct?
David: Did I did, yeah. I was represented by an agent and was picked up by a publisher and, uh, yeah, so had, you know, had the, the little book tour, kind of had that sort of traditional publishing experience, which was just lovely.
Jo: Yeah. And it looks like from your stories too, you do like to go very deep with that human emotion and those people that kind of stand out in different ways. Because you’ve also got, I think I saw, correct me if I’m wrong, but your second book is the Night Language. Is that right?
David: That’s right, yeah.
Jo: And you were a bronze medal winner for the Indies Award for best LGBT fiction as well. Can you talk a a little bit about that book as, as well and what the kind of premise of that one is?
David: Yeah, so that book, um, actually arose from the research I was doing for the first book. I was lucky enough to get into the Getty Museum’s archives, and see a wide array of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs. And there was one in particular that was not in any way referenced in the first novel, The Luminist, but it just stuck with me. It would not leave. And it was this image of this young black boy, from probably mid to late 1800s. He was dressed the way Colonial Englanders would’ve considered, um, quote unquote an African to be dressed. So he was dressed sort of in this native garb. It looks horrifically stereotyped. But it was his face I’ve never seen a face look so bereft and sad and lost, but also defiant. And I’m like, who is this child? What is this? What is his background? I don’t understand, I, I need to know. And then I kind of went on, finished The Luminist, had that journey. And when I was thinking about what to do for the next book, I came back to that image and started doing some research to try to figure out, I wonder if I can find out who this child is. And the story is this child was the son of the emperor of Abyssinia, named Tewodros. And that basically, to make a long story short and, and this background, this is sort of like the, the way the research plays a part in my novels, I probably did a solid year and a half or more of research, some of which makes it into the novel, a lot of which didn’t, but it helped me familiarize myself with the world that I was stepping into.
So, this child whose name was Alamayou, his father, the emperor was a, a Christian, but was a zealot, and considered the, the countries around him, the Abyssinia, which is now Ethiopia, he considered them to be infidels and the Muslim hordes, as he called it in the vernacular of the time. So he reached out to Queen Victoria in England and basically thought of her as quote unquote his Christian sister. And he basically said, I want to defeat and convert the countries around me, send weaponry. And Queen Victoria basically said, yeah, no, we’re not gonna do that, this is not our issue or situation. And he was incensed. And so when the, the delegation from England came to Abyssinia to tell him no, he basically held them hostage. And so by an act of Parliament, England invaded and just decimated the country in an extremely rapid amount of time. When they left the country, Tewodros was dead, as was his wife, the Queen. So Alamayou, who was surviving and had no family, they took him. And they brought him back across the sea to London where he became a ward of Queen Victoria in life. He passed away at a very early age. And so again, it was the image, this child’s photo, and then his story. But the spark was he passed away at a very early age. And what hit me was the notion of I need to write the life for him that he never got to have. And that is where the night language kind of came out.
What was interesting about it was in life there was a British officer who was like a father figure to him. And in early drafts I was sort of hewing, kind of devotedly to that. And there was a character who had no lines, had no identity in the early drafts, who was essentially a young black London boy of about the same age, who was, uh, an assistant to a surgeon on one of the ships that brought Alamayou back to London. And they saw each other across the galley one one day in an early draft. And they’ve kind of just had a moment of realization like, oh, there’s someone else on board who looks like me. And then in the subsequent revisions, they connected. That young man found his voice, found a name, Philip, and they became the love of each other’s life. And I honestly, in my, in my writing, I did not plan for that, and I absolutely did not see that coming. But one of the lessons I’ve learned in writing and one that I try to impart upon other writers is be open to the the left and right turns that your story takes. Because when they start taking turns that you don’t expect, the reason for that is your characters are coming to life and are beginning to assert themselves. And you, if you let them do that, you’re gonna find your way. You know you’re gonna feel a little lost, and that can be a little nerve-wracking, but you’re on your way to the really good stuff.
Jo: Yeah, absolutely. I love that when the characters come alive. That is just another just amazing, beautiful, horribly heart wrenchingly. Sad as well, thank you, way that you came about this story and everything like that. And so I’m seeing through everything that you’ve been saying, that real interest that it seems that you have for people and the depth of human emotion and their experience and everything like that.
And then, this is a little bit of a segue, I guess, but it looks like you’ve really taken that into the rest of your life as well with supporting other authors and with the Roar Shack and everything like that. Can you talk a little bit about how this came about? How you moved into being that real support for other authors and artists out there?
David: Yeah. Oh, sure. Yeah. Uh, thank you. I, I mean, it’s, it’s a joy and the, the, the Reading Series Roar Shack, which has been going for now over a decade in LA each month, even during the pandemic, we just did it over Zoom. Which had its own interesting aspects because I got to see readers and writers from other places, on the one hand. On the other hand, I just really missed the community, the feel of being in the same room together, that vibe, that buzz, that, uh, warmth. You know, where a writer gets up, reads something that is almost always something challenging, something difficult, something that’s personal, that perhaps they’re nervous about saying out loud. And they see what it’s like to be in front of people who are basically saying, we are gonna keep your words safe, and we are glad we were here to hear what you had to say. And they, they feel that.
The Reading Series got started essentially from the first novel when I kind of did that little book tour thing and read at different places and read at events, and read at bookstores and panels and, and things like that. And that was really the first time that I’d been in the company of writers, uh, because I didn’t really have access to that when I was, you know, kind of writing. It was, writing we all know is very isolating and it’s a solitary endeavor. Even if you’re in a room with other people, ultimately it’s you and that page, you and that screen. There’s nobody else who’s gonna help you. And so being in the company of other writers, uh, I really missed it when that whole aspect of the novel was over.
And so I literally started the Reading Series selfishly to meet other writers and get to hang out with them on a more regular basis. That was it. There was no other reason. And, and since then it’s been, we’ve been going now for over 10 years, and I’ve met so many amazing writers, lovely people, have heard some extraordinary things. If your listeners are ever in LA, I know towards the end of this we’ll let people know how to reach me, but mm-hmm, give me a shout if we’ve got a show that coincides with when you’re visiting. You gotta come check it out. It’s super fun. Yeah. I try to keep it a lot of fun. We do a writing improv contest in the middle of the show where audience members can participate and basically come back as featured writers if they win. It’s, it’s just really, really fun. I try to keep it, you know, light. I try to keep, because we’re all dealing, even if we’re writing genre fiction, even if we’re writing romance novels, it doesn’t matter. At some point you’re going to encounter darker material. Oh yeah. You’re going to, you’re gonna say the thing, I mean, there’s, there’s some a saying that I’ve learned that I believe with all my heart when it comes to writing. There are three kinds of writing styles. There is write what you know, write what you don’t know, and then write what you don’t want anyone to know. Yeah. And that third one, whether you like it or not, there’s gonna be some piece of what you’ve written, even if it’s, you know, sort of like, you know, love, love at Christmas time on the Hallmark channel, there’s gonna be some piece of it that’s like, oh, I said that out loud. I never really thought that I was gonna say that. Mm-hmm. That’s okay. That’s the good stuff. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s kind of where the Reading Series came in.
And then the writing retreat and the, the virtual sessions that I’ll be planning, that really arose outta honestly, the, the, the sense that I had when I would talk with writers who had questions cuz I’ve been published, or had questions about, you know, I’m trying to write a query letter to an agent, but I really don’t know what it should look like. All of that kind of came out of the experience of saying, well, you know, let me tell you what works for me. And them saying, oh wow, that really helped. That worked for me too. And I kind of began to realize like, oh, maybe I can actually help people. Cause I’ve never really thought of it that way until recently, that I have something that might be able to assist people. It’s really more like, well, this is just what I do. This is what works for me. This is how I attack the problem of writer block. This is how I think about when to drop in foreshadowing or when to drop in a flashback, or how do I get from A to B? I know kind of where the book starts. I, I know kind of where the book ends, but it’s that in between part that I don’t know what’s gonna happen. How do I figure that out? It turns out that these things that I try to do when I articulate them, which I’ve done in my craft book, which will be coming out hopefully by early April, uh, called the Write Formula, it makes sense to other people, and so I’m just very hopeful that people get value from it and uh, it helps their, their writing process.
Jo: Yeah. That’s amazing. I love that whole idea of having a safe community for writers to be able to share their work. Yeah, because it is, I think the scariest part of being a writer, well, for myself anyway, was the first time that I had to read aloud, or share my work, or have it published and know that people could then buy it and could read my words and yeah. It can be absolutely terrifying. And so I think having that safe community where it’s fun and embracing of, yeah, just whatever you’re wanting to share, that’s such a wonderful gift, I think, to give to the writing community. That’s so cool.
David: Oh, thank you.
Jo: Yeah. I love that.
David: It’s my, it’s my joy. It’s my joy. I mean, we all, you know, you know, you’re one of those folks who not only, because when you’re a writer, the process of I need to write something. I feel that’s not a decision that’s, that’s just, this is how my heart beats, mm-hmm, right? Like the idea of not writing is not something I can really conceive of. But the idea of publishing your work, putting your words out there publicly, that is a decision. Yeah. That’s not, you know, I don’t know that many people who are like, no, no, that’s the same impulse as writing. You know what, uh, that’s lovely to say, but it’s not. No, it’s, it’s a decision that we make. And if we make that decision, we, we know intellectually we’re going to encounter criticism. We’re going to encounter rejection. Yes, we’re going to encounter indifference. And we’re going to encounter the one thing that I think sometimes is the hardest thing of all, which is the quiet. You know, when you’re waiting, when you’re just waiting to hear from your beta reader, when you’re waiting to hear from an agent. When you’re waiting to hear from a publisher, the quiet where you read into the quiet. Always the negative reading in. Sure. Um, and so having a community of writers around you who get it in, in a really sort of instinctive way. And having someone like me or who, you know, whoever, but I like to think that I can hopefully be of assistance to people, who can look over your work, you know, and give you editorial revision suggestions, but also just sort of be there, it’s helpful, I think. It helps us sort of gird ourselves against what is inevitable.
For every writer I know, people whose books have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, who I’m privileged to know. I also, if I know them, I know how many drafts that took. I know how many passes they got before someone said, I’m gonna take a chance on you. I believe in this. I see something. Each of my books went through rounds of submissions and it was, nope. No, no, no, no. Nope, nope, nope. Really? Nope. We go through that. And so in part, for folks who either have community of writers around, whether that’s a workshop or a MFA program, or whether it’s just you have a supportive partner, you know, or a supportive wife or husband or friend who basically says, you know what, this is really good. You got this, you should keep going. Having the support of a writer who understands in a fundamental, almost cellular way, you know, when someone’s like, it’s just not right for our list. All the nuances of that. Mm-hmm. You know? It’s helpful to have somebody right there. And so I am pleased and honored to, to be that for folks who seek me out.
Jo: Oh, that’s so wonderful. That’s so wonderful. And we’ll make sure that we also put The Write Formula, if you’ve got it up for pre-order, do you have it for pre-order yet or anything?
David: Not quite yet. Coming, coming, very soon. Coming, yes. It’s in its final stages.
Jo: Yeah. Well, depending upon when this goes out, you can send through the links and things like that and I will, yeah, put it out there anyway, so that’ll be really cool.
David: Thank you. I appreciate that. Yeah.
Jo: That’ll be cool. And so the writing retreats that you’re creating, this is like an extension of this as well? What are your retreats going to be like?
David: Absolutely, yeah. Happy to talk a little bit about that. So The Write Formula, the craft book, when it comes out, what you will see when you, when you crack that bad boy open is, it really starts with, I feel like I want to write, but I don’t even have an idea. Mm-hmm. And it goes all the way through idea generation. What do you do now that you have an idea, but I have no idea how to flesh it out. To, how do I even begin to think about a character, a setting, the plot, point of view, um, all the arcs that you wanna build into your book, into outlining and just kind of creating a little roadmap for yourself, all the way through revision, and dealing with criticism, dealing with rejection. I really tried to kind of follow the journey that a story takes from beginning to end. And so when I start the virtual sessions, but particularly the physical retreat, what I’ll be doing is breaking that into sections. So there’ll be a retreat that deals with idea generation. There’ll be a retreat that deals with make your setting vivid. Cause I have very specific and sort of, uh, fundamental ideas about what it is that separates setting from a setting that feels like another character. And so the retreats will sort of deal with those in sections. The, the virtual ones will really kind of follow the book in terms of the sections we’ll be dealing with and, you know, the exchanges we’ll have, and a little bit of fun exercises that I’ve done over the years and that I’ve kind of created. And I try to make them very fun, very lively, very animated, but also illustrative of what we’re trying to achieve.
For example, when you’re trying to get to know your character, I have a game that I like to play called The Yellow Light. And the way this goes, essentially is at the very beginning of of our work, we say your character is in a car. I, I did not say your character was driving. I did not say they were a passenger. Hmm? I just said they’re in a car. I didn’t say it was their car. I just said they’re in a car and the car is proceeding, I didn’t say how fast or how slow it is proceeding towards a, a lit intersection. And as it approaches the intersection, the light changes to yellow. What does your character do? And you have to imagine what would they do? Are they gonna speed through it? Are they gonna slow down? And that begins to force you to think about, okay, well who, who is this person? Are they careful? Are they generally sort of conservative in the way they drive? Are they teenagers? And out of their mind? Are they drinking? Are they running from the police? What’s happening to them? And so they answer the question usually kind of in a spur of the moment way. And it’s usually based on, well what would I do? Yeah, umm, I’m going right through that yellow light and you all better just look out. And then we kind of go through the process of getting to know our character a bit more. By the time we’re done, I come back to that and say, okay, now that we’ve spent some time with your character, getting to know them, getting to know them in the context of your story, put them back in the car. They’re approaching the intersection. Now how do you answer that question? It’s always different. Yeah. Because now you know them.
It’s sort of like, you know, right now you and I are talking mm-hmm. and, you know, um, other than that age crack, uh, well I’m having a lovely time. But you know, we don’t know each other. Right? Yeah. So, so if I were to, if I were to be asked a question, okay. So Jo is in a jewelry store, and all the diamonds are on display on the counter, and the person says, will you excuse me? And they go in the back and they’re gone for a little bit and there’s no cameras in the store. What would Jo do? Mm-hmm. I can’t really answer that. The only way I could answer that question is more like, well, here’s what I would love for her to do. Yeah. And I’m, as the author, I’m gonna start dictating how this should turn out. Right? But I don’t know you. When I get to know you, when we spend time together and I get to know your background and I get to know how were you raised, you know, were you raised poor, were you raised wealthy? Were you raised by one parent, by two parents? Were you, you know, what was your experience? Did you move around a lot so you really never felt like you had roots? Are you a hometown girl? All the different things I might learn about you, now put you back in the jewelry store. What would you do? I can answer that question with a lot more confidence, cuz I know you. And once I get to know you, I begin to see that how you are as a character is now gonna start influencing where the story goes. When I started thinking about my story, it was the story. It was the events I wanted to happen. I want her to be in the jewelry store. I want there to be a diamond on the counter. I want that diamond to disappear. That’s what I need to happen. But then I get to know you. And you know what? Maybe those are not the event. Maybe it’s a a different thing. Maybe she sees someone else take it, and maybe her heart is such that she chases them down the street without regard to her safety, you know, whatever it may be. Getting to know them. These are parts of the exercises that we do because they have a direct impact on where your story goes. And as you start thinking about all those, what if scenarios? What if she does this? Why would she do that? You know? What if is always followed by why. Yeah. You know? Yeah. What if you were coming to the intersection, you’d go through. Why? Well because the police are chasing you. Why? Because I did something terrible. Why? Well, because here’s the story. Guess what? You just kind of plotted out the first third of your book. So it’s through these types of interactive works that, uh, we begin to see how you really do possess the tools to construct a story.
It’s not as scary as it seems. It’s just kind of demystifying what a story consists of. And so we’ll be doing that virtually. But I’m also super thrilled, super excited. We have a little getaway place outside LA in the mountains called Idyllwild. That’s the town. It’s outside Palm Springs. Beautiful, beautiful setting. And so the physical retreats are gonna be held there.
Jo: Amazing. And how long are the physical retreats gonna be for?
David: Probably like two, three days. Yeah. You know, keep it, yeah. Keep it reasonable. And it’s gonna be probably a relatively small number of people. I would say three or four. Yeah. No more than that. Just because otherwise you can’t really spend much time with anybody and with their work.
Jo: Yeah. Yeah. Aw that just sounds so amazing. I’ve disappointed I’m on the other side of the world here.
David: Get on a plane. Get on a plane. Yeah. Come be a come be a guest speaker.
Jo: Oh my gosh, that’d be amazing. Amazing. For people who are just starting out on this journey, maybe they’ve got the first draft or something written and maybe they’re not sure whether to move forward, or what to do next, or they’re suffering a little bit of that imposter syndrome or, yeah, yeah, that kind of thing. What would be your top advice for somebody in that kind of, sure, situation?
David: You know, I always shy away from platitudes. And being on social media, we see them all the time and, you know, I, I have a little bit of an eye-rolling tendency towards them. But there is one phrase that I have heard that’s usually in the context of sports. I came up doing kind of like combat sports and I heard it all the time, and I really value it deeply when it comes to writing as well. And that is, it is never too late to start. It is always too early to quit. If you have a first draft, if you have an idea, if, if an idea has found you out of everybody, keep in mind, and I do kind of believe this, I know this may sound a little woowoo, but I believe this very strongly, that idea could have gone to anybody. Mm-hmm. It went to you. There’s a reason. And if you have a draft, that means you burned so brightly to do something with your idea that you put it to paper. By definition, you should not be giving up on it. There are multiple avenues for getting your work out there. Are you of the type that’s like the only thing I’m gonna settle for is a seven figure book deal? Let’s chat because you may not be writing for very long if that is your definition of success. Your definition of success should be, I put out the best possible work I could, and the other day, somebody who read it came up to me and said, it really matters to me that you wrote that. Yeah, I saw myself and I never get to see myself in writing. But I saw me in what you wrote. Thank you. You just succeeded beyond any writer’s wildest dreams. And the reason you did, you are talented, no doubt. Right? I mean, the fact that you created an entire draft of something, you have talent for seeing a project through. The number one attribute for writers is relentlessness. It’s important to be able to tell a story, but there’s ways to kind of learn different things about that. You have to have a certain relentlessness that you just don’t stop. Even if somebody says, I don’t like you as a writer, even if somebody says no to what you wrote, even if somebody says no to you 10 times, you don’t stop. If you can say that about yourself, you got the tools. Yeah, you got the tools. Now it’s just a question of being guided, and I’m more than happy to be the person to help with that.
Jo: Amazing. So cool. I totally agree with that. Totally agree with that. I love that relentlessness. I love it. So just to wrap up here, all of this is gonna be going in the show notes and everything like that, but how can people connect with you, where can they find your books and information about your retreats and everything?
David: The best way to reach me, if you’re on Instagram, you can reach me at my name David Rocklin. It’s on there as D Rocklin. I’m also on there as the Write Formula, so that’s @the.write.formula. I pick up messages. Um, Uh, direct messages on both of those. I will respond. I’m never gonna be that one who lets you sit in the quiet, cuz I know how that feels, I’m not gonna do it to you. On Facebook, the same name’s David Rocklin and The Write Formula. DM me, message me. I will respond to you. I would love to hear what you’re working on if, and if you feel there’s a way for me to assist you, I assist a lot of people who don’t live in California, one day perhaps all the folks who are listening may be able to come to one of the physical retreats, but you can come to one of the virtual sessions and you can work with me one on one. I’m perfectly fine on Zoom and over email and chats and I make myself quite available. So please do feel free to reach out to me because you know, on top of everything else, I love hearing about what people are working on, what is really jazzing them as writers. So gimme a shout.
Jo: Wonderful. Oh, that is so cool. And I am just gonna wish you all the best success with The Write Formula and your retreat and keep me in the loop with when these things come out, because I will keep sending them out to people too, so that nobody, I will, listening to this misses out on all that lovely stuff.
David: Cool. Yay. And all the best with your writing. It’s awesome. Yeah.
Thank you. Thank you.
Jo: Well, thank you so much for coming on. It has been such a blast. I hope I didn’t offend you too much. I’m so sorry, oh dear. But so good. So much fun. Thank you so much, David.
David: It has been fun. Thank you. I really appreciate it.
Jo: Here’s some takeaways from today’s show:
1. Keep in mind that readers will project their own experiences, lives, and thoughts into your writing.
2. Books are an expressed version of the author in a moment of time.
3. Learn from authors who have gone before you, particularly in the beginning. Don’t be afraid of mimicry.
4. Be open to the left and right turns your story and characters take. This often leads to the good stuff.
5. Writing what you don’t want anyone to know is usually where the real story lies.
6. It really is never too late to start and always too early to quit.
7. The number one attribute needed to be a writer is relentlessness.
So I think it was easy to notice how much fun I had chatting to David. He has such a great sense of humor and his books have now found their way to the top of my TBR pile, which I hope they will for you too. And what has worked out really serendipitously is that David’s craft book, The Write Formula, is now available for purchase. So I have already uploaded it onto my Kindle today, and I highly recommend you do the same. I’ll have the links to all of his books in the show notes for you to click on and check out.
As writers, we’re usually voracious readers too. So if you haven’t already, and if you enjoy Gothic Suspense and ghost stories, make sure that you check out my novels and collections of short stories on my website at https://jobuer.com. Or wherever you purchase or borrow books. And if you sign up for my readers newsletter, I’ll send you my short story collection, Between the Shadows, for free, and a few days later, you’ll get a copy of a short story anthology called Seven, featuring seven wonderful stories by seven different authors, myself included. You can also sign up to my Alchemy for Author’s newsletter and I’ll send you a PDF of some of my favorite manifestation tips. And I’ll be able to keep you updated on new episodes, future non-fiction writing books, and like I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, future opportunities to work with me, if that’s something that you might be interested in. So of course the link for all of those will be in the show notes.
Well, my friends, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear what you’re enjoying about the show, what you want more of. So do feel free to reach out to me on Facebook and Instagram. I’m totally cool with DMs. I do reply. It may not be immediately, but I do reply. Or you can even email me at email@example.com. Just let me know maybe in the subject header that it’s about the podcast.
And otherwise I am wishing you a wonderful writing week ahead, my friends. Bye for now.